In my time as an adult on my own, I’ve spent a lot of it thinking about where I want to take my life, where I might want to settle down and plant my roots. When I was exiled in central California, I couldn’t shake the idea that I had to move somewhere else– literally everywhere I went I scouted as a potential residence. I escaped that situation, however the idea is still there. Which brings me to, well, where I am now.
California. In my experience, it’s incredibly misunderstood. Think about it for a minute. What comes to mind? Hollywood? San Francisco? Yosemite? Lake Tahoe? Beaches? Wine Country Redwoods? Mountains? Probably at least a few of these, if not all and then some. Did you know that if I drew a polygon with vertices at those places, it would have a perimeter of over 900 miles, yet cover not even 20% of the state? There’s way more to California than you might think:
Did you consider the Central Valley, alluded to above and the hub around which those places I mentioned surround, with its vast stretches of farmland? Fields that appear to go on forever, but only because the air is so polluted and grey that you can’t see the mountains on either side? What about dry, grass covered hills around its edges? Or large swaths of the most arid land in the country, just west of the Sierra Nevada? Land dominated by energy production, military installations, and expansive national parks? Did you know there are actual volcanoes in the north? It’s true!
When I decided to come to California, I knew almost nothing of those latter things, and so I unwittingly put myself way outside of civilization, in the smog and grass. It wasn’t that bad, really, except that I was intolerably far from where I wanted to be. As I mentioned before, I’m in process of getting ready (whatever that means) to move to San Francisco. Finally. It’s been an on-and-off goal since 2011; hopefully achieving that will bring an end to the parasite that wants me to move everywhere I go. (Future spoiler: it probably won’t, but that’s okay.)
It’s been a long journey from there to here, however, and I shouldn’t forget all of the other places I’ve been and looked at as a potential home; some of which I’ve idealized, others I’ve misunderstood, and the rest that, well, I never, ever want to find myself lest I consider my life a failure. (That bad, eh?)
I begin in the Pacific Northwest, of course. If not for the initial job offer in California, I’d probably be there right now. It was number-two in my sights during college, despite having never been there at the time. In late 2011, I finally found myself in Seattle. Needless to say, it was pretty wonderful. Eighteen months ago I swore I was destined to move there. Hey, I still might be; you never know. The ten days I spent driving through Cascadia’s majestic mountains and forests only dug my infatuation deeper, and being in more-or-less complete control over my professional destiny at the time, I went for every opening between Portland and Vancouver that I could find (with absolutely no success, unfortunately). Over a year later, my love for the Emerald City remains strong and even though I’m not planning to leave the Bay Area, it’s still my number-two. Portland, you’re cool too. Vancouver– Canada’s a different story altogether.
And then there’s this: semi-recent events have caused me to consider entertaining the notion of potentially moving to Denver. It’s a beautiful city, nestled against the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, and most importantly to me currently, has a company presence there. I could keep my current job and career, pay so much less for everything and still have a blast in a great place. There’s just a few other factors at play here, to which the consideration of entertaining the notion died a quick death.
Denver is landlocked. I’ve never lived anywhere more than two hours away from either an ocean or a Great Lake. Sure, it’s just water, and to be honest I’m not a watersportsman, and I don’t really go to the beach that often, so what’s the deal? I don’t know. I wish I did.
To the west of Denver is the Rocky Mountains, home to amazing skiing and… more skiing! To the east is a vast expanse of nothing, however, this is unlike the aforementioned vast expanse of nothing to the west of San Francisco insofar as instead of water and fog, its endless sea is grass and spawns tornadoes and conservatism.
I recently just came back from Denver, my first real time there. It was -18° C when I landed and -22°C the next morning. To paraphrase Andrew McMahon, “snow on the ground in Colorado / I’ve never felt this kind of cold before.” To quote Ilya Bryzgalov, “here is like North Pole!” I hadn’t felt that kind of cold since before I moved to California from Western New York, and never, that I can remember, in the first half of November. Which actually brings me back.
Western New York. Buffalo. Would I ever want to return, settle down in the place where I was raised, live on the cheap in a city undergoing a sort of rebirth? Well, I don’t really know. The quick and easy answer is ‘no.’ I can live without the weather. I can get my fix of the Sabres via the internet. I’d rather not revisit certain stomping grounds, nor see certain faces. I like going back, at least for the first few days before I go stir-crazy. Reading this alone is enough to get me drooling. There’s just something pushing me away, almost like I couldn’t consider myself successful unless I left the area on my own. So I did, and I really don’t think I’ll be coming back in a permanent capacity. Even on the west coast, I’ll always be a WNYer at heart.
(Aside: Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ-on-a-Cracker LOOK AT THIS:
Stay warm everyone.)
Similarly, the Northeast in general. Boston is a magnificent city. Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are beautiful states– heck, New England as a whole is lovely, except I really can’t stand its sports teams. Massachusetts was my practical first choice for employment but that didn’t work out either. I miss the Northeast dearly, as most of my family and college friends are still in the area. Were I not in such a great spot in my life right now, I’d seriously consider moving back to New England. (In fact, I pretty much did so about a year ago. Unemployment problems.) Like back home, I’ll have to settle for visiting. Not that that’s a problem.
What about Canada? I’m practically Canadian myself, having grown up a stone’s throw from the border. I thought about Vancouver once (see above); I’m just not sure I could bring myself to emigrate. Maybe I’ll consider it again if shit hits the fan politically in this country, and gods know it certainly seems to be heading that way. It’s just not the time now. Which segues into emigrating anywhere, really. I’ve never been outside of the United States, except to go to Canada, and even then I was still less than 2 hours’ drive from the border. Therefore, I’m not equipped nor allowed to discuss other countries.
Which in turn, leads me to these final regions of the country, in which my personal experience is limited, my ignorance is great, and I really shouldn’t talk about, but here we are:
In all of my time spent looking for potential places to live, from my college search to my job search, never have I once considered the South or the Midwest*.
(*Including the Dakotas down to Texas, all the way over to Ohio, with the exception of the Twin Cities, urban Wisconsin and Chicago.)
Before moving to California, I hadn’t spent any time in the super rural Midwest. In fact, I’ve still never been to Nebraska, Kansas or Oklahoma, to say nothing of the South. (Despite the map, my only time in Georgia and Texas have been layovers, so those barely even count.)
The parts I have been to are thoroughly documented. There are few geographic features from Ohio to Wyoming. It’s mind-bogglingly flat. There’s no water, at least in the form of great bodies. All of the major cities away from the Great Lakes are based on rivers. I don’t really care for rivers. As much as the ocean terrifies me, at least that water wouldn’t take me and drop me off in unknown lands; it would just swallow me in its beautiful jowls and usher me off to oblivion.
…Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the non-contenders in my quest to settle.
I don’t use marijuana, nor will I be getting same-sex married, however I am staunchly in favor of the total legalization of both. It’s no coincidence that the “states where you can’t do either” are places I’ve never considered living. I could go on a diatribe about southern politics and culture, but as I mentioned, my personal experience is nearly non-existent. I’m sure there are wonderful places, people, and things out there; I just really think I wouldn’t belong.
Belonging is important. I never belonged in the Central Valley of California. I love Western New York, but future-me doesn’t think he belongs there either.
My job has given me an amazing sense of belonging, whilst simultaneously pulling me away from my current living place, where I’ve struggled to commit to anything out of uncertainty and seemingly inevitable future movement.
Do I belong in San Francisco? I don’t know yet. There’s only one way to find out– I’ll be sure to let you know in a year.